By Shawna Kolmel, President and Peter A'Hearn, President-Elect
Four years ago, I was approached about running for President of CSTA. I can honestly say that my first reaction was to laugh because there was no way I would be elected. Come on. Who was I to think that the science teachers in California would want me to lead the association? I can still list all of the reasons that ran through my head for why I should not run, but none of those reasons kept my supporters from keeping on me and convincing me that it was a chance I should take. At that point in time, my life was incredibly stable and structured. I was the Science Specialist for the district I had been in my entire career (and the district I attended) with no end in sight. I was southern California born and bred, living the single life with no plans to move. Given all of that, I knew I had plenty of time to devote to CSTA and the presidency. I had an amazing support system of Past Presidents (thank you Jill Grace, Lisa Hegdahl, Laura Henriques), an amazing Board of Directors to work with, and an Executive Director (Jessica Sawko) who knew the ins and outs of the organization better than I ever would. I could do this!! Lo and behold, you all voted for me and I was able to spend the next two years as President-Elect wrapping my head around it all.
Then, after two years, it was my turn and the world turned upside down. Our Executive Director was offered an incredible opportunity and it was time to look for a new Executive Director. We were fortunate enough to hire Camron King to lead us through this next chapter of CSTA and I spent the first six months of my tenure trying to get my feet under me while working to get Camron up to speed. It often felt like I was dropping the ball and letting the organization and all of you down. Then, I would connect with people and they would provide me with encouragement and praise, reminding me that my feelings of inadequacy were my own and that what everyone else sees is the result of the combined effort of my entire support system.
Just when I felt like we were on a roll and the next 18 months were going to be smooth sailing, the pandemic hit and everything shifted. Not only did we have to reimagine the conference, we were also all figuring out our day jobs in this virtual world and trying to find the work/life balance that was stripped from us the day we started teaching and working from home. We transformed CSTA into CASE so we could be more inclusive of all science educators. Work/life balance was always easy for me...until last year. The pandemic managed to speed up all sorts of life changes for me. I went from single to engaged to married, adding in being a step-mom to three, having a puppy and two kittens, and moving to a whole new state...all in a matter of months. My tenure as President has been a revolving door of transitions and I am forever grateful to the myriad of people who provided me with the stability in the midst of the chaos and those who kept the organization rolling when I needed help. The last two years have taught me that with the right system of support, you really can do more than you realize. If you have ever thought about taking on a leadership role but let your self-doubt hold you back, take the leap. It is totally worth it, even in those moments when I think someone else would have done such a better job, I am glad I took on the challenge and let myself work with and be supported by such amazing people.
Stepping up big time for me was Pete A’Hearn, the man in charge of the next transition and your next CASE President. Every single time I needed to step back, Pete was there to pick up the slack and charge forward. We are not just transitioning into capable hands, we are continuing a tradition of Presidents with a true passion for science education, supporting educators, and building community. I am truly excited to see his leadership in action as CASE continues to grow and evolve.
I want to start by thanking Shawna and the rest of the California Association of Science Educators board, volunteers, and staff. We have been through the most challenging year for education (and especially hands-on science education) in memory. CASE has made it through with plenty of hard work. We learned new ways to connect to members. Our virtual conference and the many webinars we hosted leave us with a library of content. CASE did important work last year in helping our members move forward with distance learning, environmental literacy, and social justice.
It's been gratifying to see how many of our members worked to stay connected through our conference, virtual happy hours, webinars, and member circles. I’m humbled by how many of you, at the end of an exhausting day of Zoom meetings (and they are exhausting), still came together to be part of the CASE community. It is exciting to see so many passionate and talented science educators willing to give their time and effort to better science education for the kids of California.
As incoming president, I’m humbled that the members have chosen me to move CASE forward. I think about all of the incredible Presidents and board members who have gotten us here and I hope I can do justice to their hard work and example.
Moving forward, I’m excited about reconnecting in real life and building a sense of community. I see CASE as a community, and we will work to make it the place where California’s science educators find their professional home. We want to be the place where educators come to find ideas, learn, feel connected, and get inspired.
As we emerge from a difficult year, we know that time for science in many schools and especially in the elementary grades was cut way back. CASE needs to keep fighting at the State level for time and resources for better science education.
I know that an association like CASE is only as strong as its volunteers. It is the board, and the committee volunteers, the presenters and the authors that make CASE work. They give it its vision, its sense of community, and do the hard work to make good things happen for members. I encourage every member to find their own connection to this community that does so much good work!